Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans. There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
Plastic waste is one of the biggest challenges to the environment. It takes anywhere from a decade to 1000 years for plastics to properly degrade. Up till now plastic has been non-biodegradable (meaning; we do not have any organic way to decompose waste plastic). Non organic ways of dealing with plastic have been detrimental to the environment.
1. But we might have found the answer to this problem; a type of fungus found in a landfill site in Islamabad can degrade and consume plastic.
2. It took just two months for the fungi – Aspergillus tubingensis – to biodegrade a type of plastic called polyester polyurethane (PU) into smaller pieces.
3. PU is used in products such as fridge insulation and synthetic leather.
4. The Pakistan study suggests fungi could be “developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste”, says the Kew report.
5. Fungi digests its food by secreting enzymes and absorbing the dissolved organic matter back into cells. Fungi can also feed on pollutants such as oil spills, toxic chemicals like sarin nerve gas and TNT, and even radioactive waste.
6. Around 2,000 species are still being classified each year, say experts, and an estimated 93% of fungal species are still unknown to science.